Kayla Jean ~ Appliances

My mom lugs the Nutribullet to the curb. I trail behind her, bare­foot, with the blender’s var­i­ous accou­ter­ments. I pick hard­ened straw­ber­ry smooth­ie bits from the rim. She sets the Nutribullet down in the patch of grass between the side­walk and the street, next to the KitchenAid.

Almost all of the appli­ances in our kitchen were gifts from Barry, her ex, who moved out two days ago. She won’t stop until each one is lined up on the curb.

He didn’t just go back to her. He nev­er even offi­cial­ly left her,” my mom says. She’s try­ing to make sense of Barry’s going back to his wife, Deb, after three years of separation.

I tell her it’s not her fault. That as far as we knew, Deb had the house and Barry had the trail­er on the riv­er prop­er­ty. Nobody could fore­see Deb break­ing both her legs being the thing that made Barry real­ize he still loved her and need­ed to move out to take care of her.

I saw it com­ing, though. I’m a stu­pid woman.”

You’re not stu­pid, Mom. I think he’s just a coward.”

You nev­er, ever ask a sep­a­rat­ed man for a divorce more than once, you got that?”

I can’t imag­ine ever dat­ing a rat-tailed con­struc­tion work­er like Barry. I’m going to end up with some­one sweet and sen­si­tive. Someone like Elijah, who works at the BP and is hand­some enough to be a mod­el. At night I feel so cooped up in the house that I start­ed tak­ing dri­ves and I stop at the gas sta­tion for chem­i­cal tast­ing french vanil­la cof­fee. While he does inven­to­ry, he tells me sto­ries like how once at the mall a tal­ent scout hand­ed him a busi­ness card. There’s a par­ty tonight at his friend’s house and I’m invited.

It’s the toast­er oven next. I fol­low behind her, the elec­tri­cal cord limp in my hand like a wed­ding dress train.

We don’t need his pity gifts any­way,” she says. The toast­er oven thuds into grass.

I like the pity gifts and con­sid­er speak­ing up about the toast­er oven before resign­ing myself to the fact that I’ll have to go back to mak­ing piz­za rolls on the peely, non-stick, sure-to-give-me-can­cer bak­ing sheet I used until May of this year, when Barry went all out for my mother’s fifty-fifth birthday.

Cars slow down as they pass, necks jerk like those inflat­able car lot danc­ing air men. They see my mom’s face, wrin­kles like cor­duroy slop­ing towards her mushed tight lips, and speed up again.


We had the stove before Barry, so I can still cook us din­ner. Stouffer’s Veggie Lasagna because I’m try­ing to go veg­e­tar­i­an and my mom keeps for­get­ting except she remem­bered to buy this lasagna. She pours her­self a glass of cran­ber­ry gin­ger ale left over from last Christmas.

I’m going to start that Special K diet again tomor­row.” She inspects the nutri­tion facts on the Stouffer’s box.

You don’t need to lose weight, Mom.”

Oh hon­ey, yes I do.”

Then I’ll do it with you. We can do it together.”

You don’t need to lose any weight.”

For all the faults I found in him, Barry was good at mak­ing my mom feel beau­ti­ful. In the two years they were togeth­er, she had only men­tioned diet­ing a hand­ful of times. For the most part though, I’m glad Barry is gone. In the win­ter, his trail­er pipes froze and the plows didn’t ven­ture back that far, so my mom let him move in with us. He was always wak­ing up five min­utes ear­li­er and beat­ing me to the bath­room. I’d have to sit and lis­ten to him hock loo­gies into the sink for at least ten min­utes before I could straight­en my hair.

The lasagna slides off my fork in globs of ricot­ta cheese and pureed broc­coli. I want­ed to watch Cake Boss but mom’s the heart­bro­ken one so she gets to pick. We watch Tom Selleck trail crim­i­nals in his Ferrari and short shorts. I’m sit­ting as far away from her as I can on the scrag­gly, L‑shaped couch. Seeing her in pain, so open­ly hurt­ing, irri­tates me. All of the crit­i­cisms my dad lobbed at her over the years loop in my head-she watch­es too much t.v. and doesn’t read enough, she nev­er wants to do out­door activ­i­ties, she redec­o­rates the house instead of com­mu­ni­cat­ing her feel­ings in any healthy man­ner- until I start to think they’re my own and hate myself for it. The hot mid­dle of the lasagna burns my esoph­a­gus. My stom­ach feels like a Halloween pump­kin that’s just had its guts scraped out.

I flip open my Tracfone to texts about the par­ty tonight. Bunny wants the address. I envi­sion myself swal­low­ing sparkling shots of Burnette’s pink lemon­ade and lean­ing into Elijah. Making out with Elijah on someone’s grandmother’s bed. I could climb out my win­dow, I’ve done it before.

Do you want a fudge pop?” I ask. I study Tom Selleck’s meaty thighs, try­ing to find myself attract­ed to them.

She’s squeez­ing the couch cush­ion and draw­ing shal­low breaths.

Hey, hey, are you okay?” I push my emp­ty plate fur­ther into the table like I’m mak­ing room for something.

Her eyes stay shut and she says, “Fine. Just that chest pain again. Same kind from years ago.”

It takes me a moment to I remember.

Walking out of my fifth grade class­room clutch­ing a blue plas­tic bag filled with panty lin­ers, a tam­pon, trav­el sized Secret, coupons for free razors, and a pam­phlet on puber­ty. Excited to show my mom and talk about girl stuff. But it’s my aunt wait­ing out­side the school, cor­ralling me into a sta­tion wag­on with all my cousins, say­ing my mom is in the hos­pi­tal. I pick apart taquitos, too anx­ious to eat, dan­gle my legs from the stool in my aunt’s kitchen. Strain my ears dur­ing the phone call. Cry into a bath­room hand tow­el at the thought of a future with just my dad. Dollar store Herbal Essence sham­poos and hot dogs and baked beans every night. Around eight, my aunt says Praise the Lord, they ran all the tests they could and found noth­ing wrong. When I’m dropped off at home, my mom is on the couch, pale blue and flim­sy, more beau­ti­ful than ever. My dad instructs me to leave her alone for the night. I tuck my Welcome to Puberty bag under the pil­low and in the fol­low­ing weeks, teach myself to shave my legs with kitchen scissors.

Okay, Mom, but you’re old­er now. It could be dif­fer­ent, you know. We have to get it looked at.”

I’m sud­den­ly cal­cu­lat­ing how to sup­port my two younger sis­ters on my Perkin’s tips. Then I’m angry at my mom for putting dis­pos­able plas­tic cups through the dish­wash­er and shrug­ging off high blood pres­sure read­ings. For my always hav­ing to do all the Googling for us, prod her to get annu­al blood tests.

Honey, real­ly, I know what this is. It’s noth­ing to wor­ry about.”

It won’t hurt to get a sec­ond opinion.”

It is nev­er the actu­al death I imag­ine when it’s the peo­ple I love dying, only the after­math. How it will feel like dig­ging a stump from my chest, leav­ing a ragged hole. How I’ll look cry­ing at the funeral.

Really, it’s just nerves.”

I pause the tv on a still of Magnum get­ting into T.C.’s heli­copter and look straight at her. “Literally, Mom.”


After twen­ty min­utes of leg bounc­ing in the wait­ing room, we are led to a room made of pale blue par­ti­tions. I’m relieved to be clos­er to the source. If my mom has a full-blown heart attack in here, she’s some­how safer than in the wait­ing room. A med­ical stu­dent pounds all rel­e­vant infor­ma­tion into a bulky lap­top, then leaves. On the gur­ney bed, she lays straight and still as the boards on the truck cap stand Barry built in the yard last sum­mer. Her sil­ver and turquoise rings dull under the room’s flu­o­res­cent bulbs. She grimaces.

. I think about Elijah tak­ing mon­ey from the reg­is­ter, select­ing a scratch off, and putting the mon­ey back, then coin­ing the tick­et until the counter is lay­ered in gray paper dirt.  He’s explained to me some loop­hole about how this is not steal­ing and it all bal­ances out.

All around us, nurs­es swish in their pants and talk in their reg­is­ters. I flip through a Cosmo I lift­ed from the wait­ing room. The tongue is essen­tial when giv­ing your man a blow job. I’ve nev­er giv­en a blow job. My tongue slams against my bot­tom teeth, push­es hard, makes sure they aren’t going to fall out of my gums.

A doc­tor steps in, white tufts of hair tum­bling from his ears. My brain’s still fix­at­ed on Cosmo, so I envi­sion blow­ing the doc­tor for a few ugly seconds.

On a scale of one to ten?” he asks.

Seven,” my mom answers.

I hold the mag­a­zine to my face and squint tight, hid­ing my half tears. I don’t under­stand why my moth­er must endure such pain over and over again.

The doc­tor wheels her out for an EKG. She was right, I’m sure, noth­ing is real­ly the mat­ter. But I just want­ed to know for a hun­dred percent.

I think about Deb, both bro­ken legs propped up on the couch next to Barry, binge watch­ing Storage Wars. Him fix­ing her those jum­bo cans of Progresso soup. I won­der if my mom is try­ing to sum­mon him by hurting.

I saw Deb in a Michaels once but nev­er told my mom. I need­ed a poster board for a school project. In line, Deb’s meaty hands held hot glue sticks and a bou­quet of fake iris­es. Wedding ring still on her fin­ger. The gray ringlet curls atop her head looked like they were grow­ing in reverse, try­ing to weasel their way back into her scalp. She rec­og­nized me as my mother’s daugh­ter. I want­ed to tell her to take Barry back so I could straight­en my hair in peace. I want­ed to tell her that my mom deserves hap­pi­ness and she should keep her dis­tance. And then I felt sil­ly, because if Barry could love her pas­ta sal­ad hair and round body once then he could do it again, and no one had any con­trol over how any of this stuff worked, and she was prob­a­bly heart­bro­ken too, stand­ing with her fake flow­ers and hot glue gun sticks and her still-on wed­ding ring.

Do you think Barry ever loved me?” My mom asks when they wheel her back from the EKG.

I say I do and believe it. In what­ev­er way he was capa­ble of, he did.

The EKG was nor­mal, they inform us. When the nurse asks, my mom reports her pain has dropped to four.

The nurse brings the dis­charge papers. On top, they’ve sta­pled pam­phlets about anx­i­ety attacks and coun­sel­ing resources. I root through my mom’s purse look­ing for the Medicaid card to hand the lady with the wheely pay kiosk. The purse spills over with years old receipts, leak­ing lip­sticks, a knot­ted hair brush. And then, because she’s not dying, I’m angry at her. For not being able to man­age her pain. Because if she’d gone to ther­a­py or some­thing then she’d know what to do. I’d be at the par­ty right now slurp­ing jel­lo shots instead of tak­ing care of her.

Do you think you’ll try the ther­a­py?” I ask her.

I’ve got my sis­ters. They’re all the ther­a­py I need,” she says, and sits up out of the paper bed.


My mom’s cracked deb­it card still slides okay through the read­er at McDonald’s. I rec­og­nize the cashier as a girl who grad­u­at­ed last year and my cheeks burn.

My order is one Mcdouble and one small fry. My mom’s orders are less pre­dictable. Sometimes she gets a Filet-O-Fish, which seems to me like some­thing only preg­nant women should order. Whenever she orders it, I pic­ture myself years away, all grown up, con­tent, and preg­nant. It’s a November after­noon and my hair’s cut to a short bob. I’m wear­ing some neu­tral col­ored cardi­gan. And the seams of my life are tight, dou­ble-stitched, not fray­ing like my mother’s.

Tonight she says, “Grilled chick­en snack wrap and small choco­late frosty‑I mean- milk­shake, please”

I pull into a park­ing spot, not ready to go home just yet.

For a few moments, it’s silent except for chew­ing. I hate the way she chews, but I savor it, because I know in a few min­utes she’ll be express­ing regret for hav­ing eat­en this at all.

It’s the diced onions and ketchup that make the McDouble. I push the onions to the roof of my mouth until they sludge down my throat.

My mom alter­nates between bites of her snack wrap and sips of her milk­shake. We’ve read in so many mag­a­zines that eat­ing slow helps you lose weight. In my head it’s a com­pe­ti­tion to stay skin­ny for as long as I can, until time shapes me into an exact repli­ca of her flab­by bel­ly and wide shoulders.

We don’t talk about Barry or diet tips or how nights when I’m at Perkins, eat­ing grilled cheese on break, I watch Amish fam­i­lies scold their chil­dren and I miss home. I don’t men­tion Elijah, or the fact that he works at the gas sta­tion cad­dy cor­ner to this park­ing lot, and that I go out of my way to pass it, play­ing my Strokes cd extra loud. I think about telling my mom about the time I saw Deb, maybe it would show my loy­al­ty some­how. But I don’t say any­thing. I pull out my phone and text Bunny to ask if Elijah ever showed. We shove our wrap­pers into the bag and watch head­lights pull in and out of the Dollar General across the street.


It’s the boxed-in dark of nine o’clock.

In the base­ment, I slide two Miller Lite cans from the fridge into the pock­ets of my paja­ma shorts. My mom is most­ly asleep on the couch. Hands on my pock­ets, I wad­dle past the liv­ing room.

Goodnight Mom, love you,” I say in the auto­mat­ic way I greet cus­tomers at Perkins.

Goodnight hon­ey. God bless you. I love you.” She says like she says every night.

I pull out my plas­tic han­dle of Vlad, shake the last drops into the first open beer. Bunny’s text reads: Cops came, didn’t see him. At some ran­dos apart­ment now.

Outside, met­al clinks, a tail­gate drops. Through my bedroom’s cob­webbed screen I see Barry. He bends with his knees and lifts with his legs. First the microwave, then the toast­er oven. The blender he grabs with one hand, snags the elec­tric mix­er with the oth­er. He slides them silent­ly into his truck bed on a flat­tened card­board box. I think of Deb’s sausage fin­gers fum­bling with the blender but­tons. Barry winds the appli­ance cords into neat ovals around his palm, secures them with zip ties. He doesn’t even look at the liv­ing room pic­ture win­dow, where he knows my mom sleeps on the couch. He creaks the tail­gate shut under the bleached moon.

No one has ever loved my mom in the way she need­ed, not even her own self. I turn from the win­dow before he’s gone. I walk down the hall­way to check that her ribcage is still mov­ing up and down under the sheet.


Kayla Jean lives in Virginia. Her work has appeared or is forth­com­ing in Hobart, New Delta Review, Rejection Letters, and XRAY. Find her on twit­ter @dbtoil